5 Signs Your Family Needs Tech Rules—Now!

Don’t let digital chaos reign in the dining room, the bedroom, or anywhere else.

By Jacqueline Emigh

This information might surprise you, but research shows that kids today want rules in place about how their families use technology. At the same time, however, according to one recent study, 10- to 17-year-olds would also like parents to practice what they preach. Clearly, children aren’t the only family members who bother others—and sometimes endanger themselves—by using smartphones, tablets, and other tech items excessively or inappropriately.

Here are five signs that your family needs to set up technology rules, right away! Some are apparent in kids only, but others are often noticeable across generations.

Sign #1: Digital Distractions at Dinner

In another survey, 90 percent of adults questioned agreed that using technology at the dinner table is inappropriate. Moreover, 89 percent reported suffering damage to relationships as a result of family and friends ignoring them in favor of technology.

Still, many families let technology reign supreme at every meal. Mom and Dad check their work email or their latest Facebook notifications, for example, while the kids text their friends, play online games, or browse Instagram.

This kind of digitally distracted behavior carries over to dining out, too, which leaves some restaurants less than thrilled. In response, eateries ranging from Chick-fil-A in the US to Kosebasi in the Middle East have launched incentive programs such as offering free ice cream or breakfast items to patrons who are willing to ditch their phones for the duration of a meal.

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Could your family successfully adopt this kind of approach? You might devise your own reward system, or perhaps a punishment system—an extra dessert for those who comply with a prohibition against smartphones and tablets at mealtimes, say, or extra cleanup duties in the kitchen for those who don't.

Sign #2: Texting While Driving

Half of all teenagers in the United States are involved in car crashes before high school graduation, and auto accidents remain the number one killer of teens, points out DriveItHOME, a preventive resource that partners with AllState, the GM Foundation, Toyota, and AT&T. Moreover, 88 percent of U.S. teens have access to a smartphone or some other kind of cell phone. These kids send out, on average, 30 texts per day, according to Pew Research.

Teens, though, are hardly the only culprits when it comes to texting and committing other cell phone abuses while driving.

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To help prevent accidents, DriveItHOME and its allies have created a customizable contract for teen drivers and their parents called the New Driver Deal. Among its stipulations is a promise by kids never to use cell phones—hands-free or hand-held—while driving. For their part, parents pledge to be good role models, vowing that, "I will always follow the rules of the road when I drive and never do anything behind the wheel I wouldn't want my teen to do." If you have teens in your house, this kind of a driving deal might work for you.

Sign #3: Lackluster Grades at School

Sorry, kids. But in certain situations, rules can't apply equally to all family members. A recent study in the UK found that students do considerably better on academic exams at schools that ban cell phones. Special-needs and lower-income kids enjoyed the biggest gains in phone-free environments.

Does using cell phones at home also interfere with children's academic success? That it might seems almost certain, especially if kids are doing things like snapping selfies instead of studying for upcoming tests.

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In households today, banning the use of tech entirely may not be practical or even advisable. Kids need to use tools like phones, PCs, and tablets to do their schoolwork, stay in touch with friends, and learn digital skills that will serve them well in the future.

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On the other hand, parents need and want to help kids perform well at school. Generally, this calls for rules about first doing homework—either on a digital device or with pen and paper—and then playing, whether with traditional toys or with fun apps and websites.

Sign #4: Taking Phones to Bed

Also according to Pew Research, 44 percent of cellphone owners admit to having slept with their phones next to them to ensure that they didn't miss important texts or phone calls. Many people go further, tucking their phones under their pillows. But if a phone overheats as a result, its battery can melt, explode, and cause a fire—a dangerous prospect indeed.

The NYPD brought this problem to international public attention by tweeting graphic photos of the residue left behind by cell phone explosions: charred sheets, blankets, and mattresses.

Under special circumstances, it might really be necessary for adults to keep their phones next to them all night long. Perhaps an elderly relative is very ill, for example, or a job requires dad or mom to be on call into the wee hours of the morning. But even then, the phone should be placed on a hard surface such as a table or nightstand rather than under the covers.

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In addition, research indicates that the "blue light" emitted by smartphones and other digital devices can interfere with sleep, keeping people awake when they should be getting some rest. So if insomnia poses any problem in your family, you might want to set up rules about keeping gadgets in bedrooms turned off after bedtime.

Sign #5: Less Facetime in Real Time

The PsychGuides website cites "spending more time texting, tweeting, or emailing as opposed to talking to real-time people" as one of many possible symptoms of cell phone addiction.

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Sometimes viewed as being similar to gambling addiction, cell phone addiction is garnering increased attention on mainstream medical websites such as WebMD as an affliction.

The definition (and existence) of cell phone addiction remains a matter of debate, but in the University of Washington/University of Michigan survey, many teens voiced the wish that moms and dads would set technology aside when the kids asked for parental attention. Similarly, of course, many parents have the same wish with regard to kids and their phones and tablets.

And although social media seems to be everywhere these days, experts suggest that children should spend time engaged in activities that encourage development of real-world social skills—whether it be through participating in Little League baseball, playing flute in the high school band, or whatever.

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To achieve better balance between the real world and the cyber world, families can establish rules for kids that limit the use of tech to a specific number of hours each day—or each week—or that outlaw the use of certain types of websites or apps altogether.

Photo credits: Kosebasi, Pexels.com, Pixabay.com.